Dr. Owen Roberts resigned as Alachua County Superintendent effective 20 weeks from now. The problems have been building over the past year. One can only hope that the truly exciting initiatives he has sponsored will not be lost. The preschool center at Duval, the arts and music magnet transformation at Rawlings elementary, the incorporation of the System of Care to help at risk children and their families in seven schools, the Parent Academy to help parents build learning skills with their preschool children, the robotics program, and the new community school at Howard Bishop all represent his priorities. The list goes on. Alachua County Schools have risen from a ‘C’ grade to an ‘A’. The awards to programs across the county have received national attention.
So what happened to derail Dr. Robert’s administration?
Reordering priorities. Dr. Roberts had to make hard decisions in order to finance his initiatives. He:
- closed the under enrolled and low performing Waldo school and consolidated it at Hawthorne which upset the community.
- put in resources to strengthen academic and support services at at-risk schools, but left some students underserved.
- merged two centers, one for students with behavioral problems and the other to support students with disabilities with mixed results.
- released the school level curriculum and behavior resource teachers at most schools and replaced them with an assistant principal. Teachers no longer had support for dealing with disruptive students in their classes. This latter action will be rescinded next fall.
These actions in themselves may have been justifiable even if they caused dissension. The fact that there simply is not enough funding to meet the needs of all children is what the Citizens for Strong Schools lawsuit was all about. The Achilles heel was elsewhere.
Poor implementation. Any significant organizational shift is likely to result in some unrest and uncertainty. How these problems are handled are as important as the initial ideas themselves.
- When the changes are implemented by highly paid people outside the system who are perceived as arrogant and condescending, then corrective action must be made. For too long, the Superintendent chose to support the consultants instead of his staff in spite of documented problems.
- When new burdensome, but unnecessary requirements were announced, Dr. Roberts waited too long to rescind them.
- Claiming credit for the work of others is wrong, but it connotes an even larger issue. We all must be judged not by what we say but what we do.
I read Dr. Robert’s book and recognized many of the ideas he had accumulated. The strategies he advocated for Alachua County were reflected in the writings of educational policy makers who were struggling with the same need for reform that so many school districts face. His claim that he did not know about academic norms for citing the work of others does not ring true. He has after all, a PhD in educational research. He should have put those ideas in a working notebook, not a self published, poorly documented book.
Nevertheless, Dr. Roberts gave Alachua County the gift of hope that we could do a better job than most in providing equitable access to a high quality education for ALL students, not just some. He came up short on the implementation of those ideas and had to apologize once too often. I honestly do not believe that Dr. Robert’s problems had anything to do with race. The people who were his greatest supporters initially were dismayed when his poor judgment calls began to accumulate.
I like this man. I hurt for the disappointment he must feel when he was not able to do all he hoped for. I also respect the judgment of the School Board. They are closest to the action. We elected them to make hard decisions.